THE BRANDED ROSE PROPHECY (The Kine Prophecies: Book 1)
An Epic Norse Fantasy Romance
“…a truly epic tale of lovers and prophecy and fate!” — Faith Freewoman
Enduring, undying love.
A woman caught between two worlds.
The man she can never have.
The Kine and the Alfar, enemies since before Odin sat upon the throne of Asgard…
When Charlee Montgomery discovers Asher Strand’s true nature and the feelings he has for her, she also learns Asher’s love puts her in mortal danger. Prophesied long ago, the ancient bridges connecting Earth to the other eight worlds are opened. The Alfar descend upon Earth and the Kine must emerge from their hidden life to take up their role as Man’s protectors.
Without Asher, the Kine will fall and Man with them. To defeat the Alfar, Asher must give up any hope of a human life with Charlee.
Love. Duty. An impossible choice that must be made. Man’s survival depends on it.
Reader Advisory: This epic Norse fantasy romance is a very long book!
“The suspense arouses the curiosity, catches hold of the readers and refuses to let go and the spin on the mythology that the author used to create her fascinating world!” — Evampire
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EXCERPT FROM The Branded Rose Prophecy
COPYRIGHT © TRACY COOPER-POSEY 2013
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Charlee was ten when she met her first non-human, but another twenty years would pass before she truly understood Asher’s nature. She was very young, despite growing up in the Bronx. That first day, though, she did figure out two facts about him. One, he owned a wicked sword that vanished at will. And two, what he did was heroic even though a man died and it was not Charlee he saved. Her own rescue would come much later, after the fall of New York.
Their first meeting happened in early September, on a sultry night with no breeze for relief. The air was so still that the smell of dust rose from the sidewalks to tickle the inside of Charlee’s nose. Her feet inside her old Chucks throbbed from contact with the baked concrete as she hurried along Trinity Avenue.
The sun had finally slipped behind the buildings sometime after seven, a ball of angry red and orange, sending down the street long shadows that merged into twilight. Nothing moved, not even the leaves drooping overhead. It was like the whole world had paused to take a collective breath of relief now that the cool of the evening could descend.
It was still warm and close despite the dark. As Charlee headed northeast along the street, she could feel the air colliding with her damp skin, reluctantly parting to let her through.
Water, she thought, as her throat clicked with dryness. She should get some water for Chocolate, to go with the food she had brought. She started to look for a faucet. If this had been Cauldwell Avenue, she would have known exactly where one was, but she didn’t know Trinity very well. It took her a block out of her way, from school to home, but she had come this way a week ago when she had spotted a large group of Lightning Lords blocking the way on Cauldwell. The gang had been lolling about on the sidewalk, leaning against the fences that bordered this section, brooding gazes scanning the street and pedestrians.
Two weeks ago, three teenagers had been found in the alley behind the Chinese supermarket at the top end of Cauldwell Avenue where it ran into 160th Street, their bodies riddled by machine gun fire. Residents in the closest buildings had seen nothin’ and heard less, but the talk at school was that the teenagers, who all went to Herbert H. Lehman high school, had given the gang too much attitude as they walked past them.
Better to walk an extra block than risk making the Lords angry.
Using Trinity Avenue was the reason she had met Chocolate, which made up for the inconvenience. Charlee thought of him as she scanned the homes and their yards, looking for a free faucet. His brown eyes had been so big in his face that for the first time Charlee really understood what people meant when they said someone’s eyes were as big as saucers.
She had known he was homeless straight away, which had made her sad. How could anyone turn him out? One look into his big eyes and she could see he was gentle and kind, even though he made a noise in his throat when she got closer, a sound she had just known meant “stay away.” But there was hope in his eyes, too, so she had spoken to him.
They had become friends almost instantly. Charlee had found him somewhere to bed down for the night, then she had returned right after supper, the frankfurts she had not eaten wrapped in greaseproof paper in her pocket. Chocolate had been so grateful, gulping down the two frankfurts in about ten seconds, that she had felt guilty for not bringing more.
She had returned every night since, bringing what she could from her supper plate and anything the rest of her family left untouched, which wasn’t much. Chocolate had been waiting patiently each time she arrived, giving her a welcome so warm that her heart had lifted.
When she reached the alleyway she still had not spotted a faucet, but she couldn’t spend more time looking for one. She didn’t want to be away from the house for much longer. Her mother never checked on either her or Lucas once they had escaped to their rooms after supper, as she preferred to stay at the kitchen table with her favorite brand of beer. Her father, though, might look in while she was away and find her room empty. It was much more likely that Lucas would come to talk to her before he went to bed himself, as he sometimes did. It was amazing that he had not discovered her gone this past week. Although if he did discover her gone, she could talk him into staying silent about it in return for her silence over the magazines she had found under his mattress.
The air seemed even thicker in the closed-in, narrow alley. The shadows seemed darker, but even before she reached the bend where the alley turned around the corner of the apartment building it hugged, she heard Chocolate in the dark ahead of her. He had caught her scent and was pleased to see her.
“Chocolate? Here, boy,” she coaxed, digging into her dress pocket for the plastic bag. She extracted the bag carefully, for it was half-filled with watery stew. “You’re prob’ly not gonna like all this,” she told Chocolate, easing the bag open. “But it’s real good stuff, so you chow down, okay?”
Chocolate inched closer. He was a light shadow in the dim light. His patchy fur looked washed out even in Charlee’s limited experience. His tail was wagging, swaying his whole body, but he still took a careful step at a time toward the open bag, not quite cringing. He was ready to bolt at the slightest hint of danger.
Charlee had to keep hold of the bag, or it would spill its contents. Until tonight, she had opened the bag then stepped well out of Chocolate’s way, letting him approach the bag without her standing over it. Last night, once he had become involved in eating, she had taken a step closer, then another, until she could crouch down next to him. Chocolate had shied, ducking, but the power of the food had brought him back to the bag and as he ate, she stroked the fur between his ears softly, thrilled that he trusted her enough to let her touch him.
She hoped that tiny amount of trust would let her hold the bag for him now. “C’mere, boy,” she whispered. “Come and get it.”
Chocolate was quivering with eagerness, but still hesitant. He stepped closer. He didn’t shift back and forth the way he had the first night they’d met, torn between the smell of the food and safety, but he still took his time thinking about it until, finally, he pushed his nose inside the bag. Apparently, she was worthy of trust.
Charlee was enormously pleased, but she held still and grinned in the darkness. “Good boy. Smart boy!” she told him. She would have tried to pet him, but she had to hold the bag with both hands so he could get at the stew.
“Hey, chickita. Whatcha think you’re doing, huh?” The soft inquiry came from behind her, shocking her with its unexpectedness.
Charlee looked over her shoulder, then bounced to her feet in one powerful movement that she would never have been able to make if her heart had not been leaping as it was. She almost swayed on her feet, feeling sick and weak.
She and Chocolate were tucked into the sharp corner of the alley where it turned, next to some banged-up garbage cans. The section of the alley that ran into the street had been behind her. She faced it now, and it was full of dark shadows and warm air. Ranged across the width of the alley were four men. Boys in age, but experience had made them old before their time. They wore clothes that weren’t quite the same in style, but were identical in intent: jeans, black tanks and silk shirts over the top. Their shirts were all hanging open to show a small fortune in thick gold necklaces, at least three apiece.
Lightning Lords. She would have become afraid if her heart had not already been zooming up near the clouds somewhere. They had snuck up on her while she was busy coaxing Chocolate to eat.
One of them, one of the ones standing in the middle, was a pace in front of the rest. He was the one who had spoken, she guessed. He was staring at her. A smile pulled at his lips but there was a hard, cold light in his eyes that didn’t match the smile. “Huh, chickie?” he prompted her.
“I ain’t doin’ nothing,” she said. It was a weak defense, but she couldn’t seem to think straight.
“Looks to me like you’re doin’ plenty,” he said. “Dontcha know that thing could be filled with rabies?”
Charlee didn’t know what rabies was, but just the name sounded horrible. She made a mental reminder to find out what rabies was, the next time she was near a dictionary or in the library. She kept her face still, so he wouldn’t see her ignorance. “I’m just feedin’ him.”
“We gotta hurry, Lonzo,” one of the others murmured. “They’ll be waiting.”
Lonzo waved away the reminder with an impatient motion of his hand. He didn’t shift his gaze from Charlee or Chocolate, who was nosing at the last of the stew in the corners of the bag. Chocolate didn’t like the newcomers, but the food kept him anchored. His whole body was stretched backwards, like he would be gone in a second if only the stew wasn’t there.
“Feedin’ that mutt is a waste of time, anyways,” Lonzo told her. “It’s a stray. It’s gonna die inside a week or two. If a car don’t get it, another dog will. You’re better off doin’ it a favor.”
She didn’t know exactly what he meant by doing Chocolate a favor, but she could guess at his general intention. Anger sprouted. “Don’t you dare touch him.”
One of the boys chortled then choked it back. The others grinned, including Lonzo. Again, the expression didn’t reach his eyes. They were dead. Muddy black eyes that let nothing out. He took a step forward. It brought him very close to her.
Chocolate lifted his snout a few inches, his interest in the meal instantly gone. He growled in the back of his throat, a deep sound that Charlee had never heard before. He wasn’t backing up.
“Shh…” she told Chocolate quickly.
“You givin’ me an order?” Lonzo asked, his voice soft. The low sound made her heart gallop all over again and she shook her head quickly.
“Sounded ta me like you was tellin’ me what to do.”
She tried to swallow, but her throat was too dry. The sick feeling swooped back, and sweat popped on her temples and prickled under her arms. She could hear her heart in her head, booming loudly. “I wouldn’t,” she told Lonzo helplessly.
“‘Course you wouldn’t.” He was calm, even friendly. “‘Coz I can do anything I wanna do. Want me to prove it?”
She shook her head quickly.
Chocolate was still growling. His top lip lifted, baring his teeth. It looked frightening, but his eyes were warm with feeling.
Lonzo moved quickly, catching Charlee by surprise. He took another long stride forward. His heavy steel-toed workboot that had never seen a moment of anything resembling work planted itself on the crumpled plastic bag, and the bag popped as the air was squashed out of it.
Then he shifted his weight forward, his trailing leg swinging viciously. The toe of his boot caught Chocolate in the rib cage just behind his front leg, down low where the ribs ended.
Chocolate howled. It was a terrible sound, one that would stay with Charlee the rest of her life. The sound was loud, keening. It pierced her heart, making it hurt. It stopped her brain for a moment, so that she simply froze.
He kicked him. Mother Mary…he kicked Chocolate. It was the only coherent thought she had.
But the moment of frozen surprise didn’t last. Heated emotion rushed up from her toes, filling her with a fury stronger than anything she had ever experienced. While Chocolate staggered away from Lonzo with a limping gait, his howls shifting to pain-filled yips, Charlee drew in a breath that seemed to fill her lungs with white-hot energy. “How dare you!” she cried and leapt at Lonzo.
Lonzo was just starting to grin, delighted at the effectiveness of his kick. He was level with Charlee in the alleyway, so his flank was turned toward her. He was a small man, barely over five and a half feet, while Charlee was tall for her age. She pushed herself off her feet and up into the air, her arms held out toward him, her fingers spread.
She landed against his shoulder and momentum threw her around so that she slammed against his back. She wrapped her arms around his neck in a purely instinctive search for anchorage to hold her up.
Then she shifted her weight so one arm could keep her in place and began to thump her fist against his chest and shoulder and the side of his face. The whole time, she was screaming, her anger driving words out of her that she didn’t pause to put together. “You fucker! You goddamn fucker! You kicked him. You hurt Chocolate and he didn’t do a thing to you. Listen to him, listen to what you did!”
When his fingers gripped her forearm and tried to pull it away, she realized that she was choking off his breath.
….good, I hope he dies…I hope it hurts, hurts like hell… The thought was calm, coming from a quiet place in her mind that she didn’t recognize. It was the same place that was analyzing the strong cologne Lonzo wore, disliking both it and the aroma of stale sweat beneath it.
More hands were on her arms and curling around her neck. The others were stepping in to rescue their leader. They were going to yank her off him.
Her anger was subsiding and now there was room for other emotions. Fear touched her. If they pulled her off Lonzo’s back, they would beat the crap out of her for attacking him.
She stopped trying to hit him with her fist and wrapped both arms around his neck, gripping her forearms to cement her hold. She tried to get her legs around his body, for the extra strength it would provide. One of them grabbed her ankle in a painful grip, wrenching her leg backwards. “No, you don’t!” came the cry. “Grab her foot, for fuck’s sake.”
“Kill the bitch!” Lonzo croaked. He was leaning forward. Staggering.
Through it all, through the shouting, the curses and her blood thundering in her ears, Charlee could still hear Chocolate somewhere in the dark, whimpering in pain.
She closed her eyes and hung on as best she could. They were pulling her backwards by the grip on her legs, while Lonzo pushed forward. There were three of them behind her, all grown men. They would break her grip any second and then…and then she would have to just take what they dished out.
But Chocolate was no longer in sight, which meant they would never catch him. The cool, calm corner of her mind was grimly satisfied.
“What d’ fuck?” came the cry from behind her and at the same time, one of her ankles was freed.
There was a sound, a grunt of pain. It was not dissimilar to the painful wheeze Chocolate had made.
“Fucker!” one of the others cried.
Her other ankle was let loose and now she was hanging from Lonzo’s neck, her full weight pulling her forearms up tight against his throat. She hung only for a second, then hands gripped her middle and plucked her away like she was a piece of lint. Her arms were ripped from around Lonzo’s throat.
She was placed gently on her feet, facing the back of the alley. Instantly, she spun to face the gang, to see what had pulled her from Lonzo.
Two of the gang were sprawled on the stony tarmac, one propping himself up with an arm while the other hand pressed against his stomach, lying very still. The third was running toward the street, his silk shirt flying out behind him like a short cape, his slightly bowed legs pumping hard.
Gutless creep. Charlee could feel her nose wrinkling in disgust. She turned her head to look farther down the alley, on the other side of the bend. She had a perfect view down both lengths.
Lonzo was facing a giant standing in the middle of the alley. The giant had his back to Charlee. She didn’t know if he was really a giant, but he seemed huge. He stood a foot higher than Lonzo and from behind, his shoulders were really big, too. He seemed to glow in a dull way, but she didn’t stop to wonder why, for Lonzo was staring at the man, his lips curling back like Chocolate’s had done when he thought he was in danger. He was reaching under his shirt. Under and behind.
“He’s got a gun!” Charlee warned the glowing man, for she had felt the shape of the pistol tucked into Lonzo’s jeans when she had been hanging against him.
The man didn’t back away. He didn’t seem to react at all. He stood quite still. One hand was tucked into the pocket of what looked like perfectly normal trousers, as far as she could tell in the thickening dark.
Lonzo pulled out the pistol. It looked really big, too, and made Lonzo’s hand look small. But his fingers curled around the handle with familiarity, the long forefinger resting against the trigger. He didn’t point the gun at the man. He held it pointing up into the air, not quite threatening.
“Really not a good idea,” the man said.
Lonzo just grinned.
“I heard what you did to the dog,” the man said, not sounding even a little bit afraid of Lonzo or his gun. “You don’t get to walk away unpunished for that, but if you put the gun down, then you will walk away.”
“I’m walkin’, man,” Lonzo said, hiking the gun up an inch to draw attention to it. “You can’t stop me.”
“But if you don’t put the gun down,” the man said, speaking as if Lonzo hadn’t said anything, “then that changes things. I can’t guarantee you’ll walk anywhere if you don’t.”
Lonzo snorted. “Says you.”
“Think it through,” the man encouraged Lonzo. He sounded like he was almost begging Lonzo to reconsider.
Lonzo brought the gun down and pointed it. Not at the man. He held it sideways, like the gangsters in the movies. Charlee’s breath jammed up in her throat, because he was pointing the gun at her.
Lonzo grinned at the man. “Gotcha, asshole.”
The man sighed.
Things happened very quickly after that and it was only later, when Charlee recalled the next few seconds over and over, rebuilding the fractional parts of those seconds into the right order, that she was able to put it together with any coherence. The big man pulled his hand out of his pocket with a tiny swishing sound. His hand was held in a fist. In the dark, she thought he was holding something.
Then, suddenly, he was holding something. It was a sword. A real, honest-to-goodness sword, with a long blade that pointed up into the night sky.
The blade didn’t stay still. Lonzo spotted it and made a sound that Charlee could barely define. The snort/exhalation held some surprise, but there was happiness there, too. A primal glee over the man’s attack. Lonzo swiveled the gun to point at him.
The blade moved with a high singing note, then Lonzo dropped the gun and gripped his wrist with his other hand, his eyes and mouth turning into almost perfect circles. Charlee smelled a hot, coppery scent and knew what it was without confirmation. Blood.
“End this now,” the man urged Lonzo. “Walk away.”
Charlee licked her lips. Lonzo wasn’t the type to walk—or run, like his gang friend had. Besides, his other two Lords were still there, watching. The one that had been lying still was sitting up now. Lonzo glanced at them and Charlee knew he wouldn’t leave. Not now.
She wanted to warn the man, but before she could think of what to say, or draw breath to speak, Lonzo leapt at him, a switchblade in his left hand. The blade glinted in the little light still left. It swung, reminding Charlee of the way Lonzo had swung his boot when he kicked Chocolate. It was the same fast, powerful arc.
The man spun in a tight circle. Again, much later, Charlee recalled seeing him twist around and at the same time his arm, the one that held the sword, brushed aside Lonzo’s forearm, deflecting the knife as it swung around to meet the spot where the man had been standing less than a second before.
Abruptly, the man was behind Lonzo. His free arm wrapped around Lonzo’s shoulders, encompassing them easily and holding him still. The tip of the long sword slid up under Lonzo’s chin, puncturing the skin…and kept going, sliding easily like a knife through soft butter.
Lonzo jerked, his whole body stiffening. Then he relaxed in the man’s grip, making a soft sighing sound.
“Holy Mary, mother of god…” one of Lonzo’s friends whispered. “He scragged him. The fucking dude just scragged Lonzo.”
Charlee could feel her heart trying to ram its way past her ribs. The ease with which he had moved was fascinating in a black, bad way.
The man was facing the remaining pair of Lords over Lonzo’s still shoulder. “I gave him every chance to end it before this moment.”
The silent one of the pair glanced at the other.
“If you speak of this to anyone, I will find out. Then I will find you,” the man added. “Do you doubt that?”
The first shook his head. The second spat on the tarmac.
The man jerked his sword out of Lonzo’s skull. It made a wet, sucking sound, and Charlee clapped her hand over her mouth, holding in any noise she might make. Lonzo crumpled to the ground at the man’s feet, his face scraping across the pebbles and dirt.
“Take him and do what you do with those you deal with. I don’t want his body surfacing later for the police to examine. I will be upset if that happens. Do you understand?”
The first of them, the talker, crept forward on his hands and knees and grabbed Lonzo. The second stirred and helped him pick Lonzo up. They started backing down the alley toward the street, Lonzo hanging limp and crumpled between them.
“The other way,” the man directed. “Away from public eyes.”
They hesitated, looking at him fearfully. Charlee knew they didn’t want to get too close to him and he stood in the middle of the narrow alley, blocking their way.
“Move it,” he growled at them and stepped aside, giving them room to pass.
They shuffled past him awkwardly, their burden slowing them down. Then they hurried along the alley until the dark swallowed them up and all Charlee could hear was their slow, dragging steps.
It left her alone with the man and his sword.
Heartbreaking at times, bloody and terrible at times, and downright epic all the way through,
this is one story that made me hurt for ALL the characters.
In a glorious, puddly tears kind of way.—Reading the Paranormal
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